LIHU‘E — After two hearings this week, 5th Circuit Court decided the Lara Butler-Brady case will be turned over to the state Attorney General.
Chief Judge Randal Valenciano on Thursday granted the prosecution’s motion to withdraw from the case after the Office of the Hawai‘i Attorney General said it would accept the case through a deputy prosecutor via phone conference.
The Attorney General will assign special prosecutors from the Big Island prosecuting attorney’s office. The trial will remain in 5th Circuit with Valenciano presiding over the new case, now set for May 29.
The original case on 16 misdemeanor counts had been set for jury trial to begin on Monday.
Craig De Costa is not a court appointed attorney and will remain as defense counsel for the defendant Butler-Brady, while County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Melinda Mendes will no longer handle the case for the state.
The changes in the case began with a hearing on last Thursday when litigants and attorney Daniel Hempey, counsel for the Kaua‘i Humane Society, met in chambers with Valenciano regarding new evidence that allegedly placed the Prosecuting Attorney’s office in conflict of interest.
At the Tuesday hearing, Hempey motioned to prevent the state from dismissing the case by recusing them and appointing a special prosecutor. He filed a petition declaring that the prosecuting attorney’s office had placed itself in conflict in a matter involving a Humane Society employee on a separate matter.
Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho was present at the Tuesday hearing and said the state intended to request for the Attorney General’s office to take the case. If not, she said the state was prepared to move to trial or dismiss the case.
Valenciano ruled that the Humane Society did not have standing in this case. He said that victims or witnesses cannot petition the court to force the prosecution of a case.
The office of the prosecuting attorney has that discretionary power and with it the duty to reassess a case and its decision to prosecute based on new evidence as it comes to light, said the judge.
Hempey’s motion also dealt with the potential loss of restitution in excess of $70,000 for the care of the 16 horses.
Valenciano noted that the Humane Society without standing cannot petition for restitution or sentencing recommendations unless and until a guilty verdict is reached in the case. He added that the motion did not apply to the case as it refers to a statute for domestic pets and not equine or beasts of burden.
DeCosta stated that he agreed the prosecuting attorney’s office has a conflict based on the new evidence. He was not willing to waive speedy and public trial rights on behalf of his client.
DeCosta motioned to seal the new evidence, followed by Iseri-Carvalho’s reply that it would potentially prejudice the Attorney General’s case, should they take it. The motion was continued but not addressed on Thursday.
Butler-Brady is charged with 16 counts of cruelty to animals in a 2010 case involving horses on the 165-acre Keapana Horsemanship riding stable in Hanama‘ulu. The horses were declared emaciated by the Humane Society after complaints were filed and Butler-Brady was indicted on July 13, 2010.
The horses remain in protective custody and are maintained by the Humane Society at its Puhi shelter and through some privately owned land.
After refusing a change of plea offer last month, Butler-Brady was in court and was involved in pretrial motions when the case was moved to the special prosecutor Thursday.
If found guilty, Butler-Brady faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@ thegardenisland.com..